Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Math and Miscellaneous Updates

Eric and Math

This school year, Eric has joined this AWESOME math team for other smart kids who are homeschooled. I love it. I'm a very verbal person, but even I have difficulty explaining just how great it is. Smart math peers. Social interaction. Teamwork. Friendly competition. Public speaking skills (when it's his turn to demonstrate a solution to everyone else at the board). Intellectual stimulation. Basically, it involves academic, social, and life skills all piled together.


It's also nice that Eric wins a lot. (Although the times he hasn't won, I have been pleased at his sportsmanship.)

Every week, about twenty kids meet at a public library for ninety minutes. The leader, Brook, is fabulous. She is an ER physician who got involved because of her son. Her son is grown now, but she still volunteers her time to help other "mathy" kids. She has told me that Eric reminds her of her child and she keeps wanting to hug him. I said she could go ahead, since he's not anti-hug like some autistic kids, at least not with people he knows and likes. And who would he like better than an awesome math coach?

In terms of format, Brook does announcements and then dismisses most of the adults. I can't stay in the room since I instruct Daniel during that time and occasionally chase toddlers. I believe that she divides the kids into tables of four apiece (grouped by ability) and assigns them problems. Generally, they see how far they can get individually, and then they compare answers and solutions, sharing ideas for how to approach the nastier problems. Occasionally the kids do practice versions of specific math tests or rounds of competition. Some parents and high school students are scattered throughout the room to help facilitate and proctor as necessary, but they try to let the kids work through things themselves.

Humility and Rivalry

I am rejoicing that Eric has found some math peers. Hopefully he and some of the other really talented kids will become good friends and sporting rivals. Whether they get to be buddies or not, I expect they'll be seeing quite a lot of each other over the next several years. At a minimum, they will need to work together for team rounds at competitions.

(After his very first math practice, Eric stumbled out of the room looking dazed. He had gotten perhaps a fourth of his practice questions correct, and this was an innovative experience for him. "Well," I said, philosophically when I saw his paper, "Perhaps this will help to build character. Keep you humble." Eric answered wryly, "It's working.")

Event 1

In late September, Eric entered his first math competition. Generally, these have several individual rounds, like "Target," "Sprint," and "Number Sense" (which has brutal enforcement of its stupid formatting rules, like marking an answer wrong if it contains a comma or a leading zero before a decimal place). Then groups of four kids compete in the team round. All the kids answer the same problems and receive an overall score, but compete against other children from their own grade.

Competing at the elementary school level, against kids in 3rd through 6th grades, he placed 1st in 5th grade and 4th overall. Since they award trophies by grade, he got an individual 1st place trophy. His "B" team also placed the highest of the 5th-grade teams and 2nd overall. (The homeschoolers' "A" team had the highest 6th-grade and overall scores.) It was a nice, gentle introduction for Eric.

Event 2

A month later, he attended his first middle school competition. This time he competed against kids in grades 6th through 8th--plus a few outstanding kids, like himself and a profoundly gifted fourth-grader who competed "as" 6th-graders.

(Note: You're allowed to jump up like that in mathleague contests, but not mathcounts. If Eric had tried to claim he was a 6th grader at a mathcounts event, he would never have been allowed to compete at the 5th grade level again. Yes, it's all rather confusing and overwhelming at first. I'm still learning the systems and am very grateful for the experienced coaches who just tell me what to do.)

At that first middle school event, Eric placed 3rd in 6th grade and 8th overall. He still got an individual trophy, again because trophies are awarded by the top three scores per grade.

It was at that event I saw the "countdown" round for the first time. It is rather like Quiz Bowl or Academic Olympics. The moderator flashes a math question on a projector. Two kids at a time face off and have ninety seconds to ring in. The first kid to achieve a majority out of three or more toss-up questions advances to the next round. Paper and pencil are allowed, but not calculators. It was glorious to watch the little fourth-grade genius whomp kids twice his grade and twice his size. (Eric advanced to the second round and then froze. That's okay. I think a little experience will do wonders.)

Events 3 and 4

In early December, Eric competed in middle and elementary events back-to-back. I signed him up for the middle school one and only registered him for the elementary contest later in the day after I determined that he was doing okay. (I didn't want him to commit to eight hours of math and then be exhausted and cranky.)

Well, he did great at both.

I helped out a lot in the scoring room, and got results on my laptop. (I used them to help me write out certificates and make power point slides for the awards.)

In the middle school competition, he came in 2nd in 6th grade and 3rd overall. This is against kids in grades 6 through 8.

But in the elementary contest later that afternoon, Eric came in 1st place, overall, in every category except number sense (which is the one with the idiotic rules). He had the highest total score for the competition.

People kept crowding around, asking to see their own kid's results, and they would see Eric's scores and say "Wow. Look at that kid who got a 70 in the target round!" And I would smile and say, with abject humility--never mind. I would grin and say "Yeah. That's MY KID!"

Jon and I are practically arm wrestling each other for who gets to take Eric to these meets.

For the team rounds, he also competed with the "A" team for the first time. (I think a regular 8th-grade kid wasn't there that day, and Eric was the natural replacement. Member ship on the "A" team appears to be a little fluid, depending on each contest's age eligibility rules and which kids attend.

Also, they used my laptop to hook up to a projector to display the power point slides showing the results. This means that in both competitions, a hundred-odd people got to see an adorable photo (from last year) of baby Jeff in a Christmas stocking and Santa hat. (Cue lots of spontaneous "Awwwwww"s.) They stared at that for several minutes before getting the drumroll of "And in eighth place, fourth grade..."

Oh, and Eric's homeschool "A" team totally won the team event. Are you surprised?

Too Many Trophies

So, the breakdown for the semester goes like this:

September. Competing against kids in 3rd - 6th grades. 1st in 5th grade. 4th overall.
1st place 5th grade team team. 2nd place overall team.
October. Competing against kids in 6th - 8th grades. 3rd in 6th grade. 8th overall.
December. Competing against kids in 6th - 8th grades. 2nd in 6th grade. 3rd overall.
1st place 6th grade team. 1st place overall team.
Same day. Competing against kids in 3rd - 6th grades. 1st in 5th grade. 1st overall.
1st place 6th grade team. 1st place overall team. Top individual score in 3/4 categories.

Two of those team trophies now live at our house. Apparently the protocol is that each team member who cares gets a chance to take the trophy home for a week. After it has circulated, they decide where it will end up permanently. If they can't agree, Brook awards it to the kid with the highest individual score. Eric's teammates have been gracious about letting him keep the hardware. I think the next time they win, I will coach Eric in advance about demurring.

So we now have four individual and two team trophies living on our mantle. At this rate, we'll need a much larger space soon. It sounds like a good math problem. "Eric earns an average of one individual trophy per month. Each trophy occupies a volume of approximately 9" x 3" x 3". At this rate, how large of a trophy case will Eric need after eight years?" (Also, I'm thinking that making such a case might be a great project for Grandpa Berry the next time he visits.)


Now, it seems unfair to devote all my time to bragging about Eric. After all I have FOUR brilliant boys.

Recently, Daniel built a complicated creation and he explained all the internal circuitry to me. It was a top-secret base, powered by three "super-charged" batteries. On it's lowest setting, it could generate an invisibility "cloak" which extends a few feet. At it's largest setting, it could shield several neighborhoods from view. He cranked it up to its full setting, and I worried that Daddy wouldn't be able to get home.

I thought I had some video of this, but apparently not. :( That makes me sad, because it was an awesome creation, and his explanation was even more cool. I loved the way his batteries plugged in smoothly to the base. It was a lot like the ZPMs of Stargate: Atlantis.

He's also a fantastic big brother. He's so kind about volunteering to play with Littles or offer sympathy for bumps. Here's a picture of him helping his younger sibs on a wicker swing from India. (We were in the backyard of some friends who had lived there.)


I just posted about Sammy grappling dramatically with scary monsters. Here are a few other cute quotes:

"I not a baby. I a Sammy!"

Sam: What is that?
Jon: It's a CD spindle.
Sam: Does it spin?

He's working on counting to ten. One, two, and three are pretty solid. Also eight and nine.

A Swaggering, Staggering Pirate

Let's not forget Jeff. Here is some cute video of him walking while wielding a sword. Pirate attack, eeek!

He has also taken to playing "peekaboo" with me, and following directions. If I tell him to crawl over to the diaper changing area, he understands me. He even generally obeys me. Yay! Sweet boy. Also very snuggly. I don't care if he's walking; he's still a baby, not a toddler.

All too soon, Jeff will be winning math contests. But right now, I am focusing on enjoying the pros of each stage and minimizing the cons. I know they grow too fast, and I'm trying not to waste too many minutes.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

My nephews are adorable and brilliant!